Slater teachers ‘disappointed’ by lack of meaningful change after meeting with Santa Rosa City Schools superintendent
Slater Middle School teachers said they are disappointed by the lack of meaningful promises after a staff meeting on school safety with Santa Rosa City Schools District Superintendent Anna Trunnell.
The "listening session“ on Monday came after veteran teachers raised their concerns about a violent outbreak involving up to 150 students on May 4.
The team of five staffers, who regularly volunteer to supervise students during brunch and lunch, described a scene of “absolute chaos.”
They told Slater Principal Mitch Tucker on May 15 they refuse to continue to voluntarily supervise until the district offers more adult support on campus for the safety of other students, as well as their own.
However, during the Monday meeting, which included the entire Slater staff, Trunnell did not commit to any specific moves to add campus supervisors or revise disciplinary protocols, the teachers said.
“Nothing was promised,” said Tami Axthelm, a 12-year veteran teacher at Slater. “Nothing was told to us that ‘yes, we have this, this, and this in the works,’ and yes, we're still not going to be supervising.”
Trunnell, in an interview with The Press Democrat on Tuesday, said she could hear the frustration over lack of immediate changes during the meeting, but she reiterated that plans to analyze the budget and increase supervisory roles are in the works.
Trunnell also pointed out that school discipline has increased significantly this year. Suspensions nearly doubled this school year compared to last year, she said, adding that a large factor in the increase was a rise in student behavioral issues.
And while they have added a few supervisor roles and redirected as many administrators to help assist as they can, Trunnell said the district is in a “predicament.”
Substitute administrators, some of whom are retired educators, have exhausted the number of days they are legally allowed to work. While the district is trying to hire more substitute administrators, those positions are difficult to fill. Trunnell said other districts are facing the same problem.
Several teachers who attended the meeting said Trunnell did listen to every teacher and staff member who wanted to talk, answering many of their questions. However many staff members still feel uneasy about whether enough support will be in place by the time the next school year begins.
“I'm trying my best with the people and resources that we have right now, with the goal of building those resources so that they're permanent for the coming school year,” Trunnell said.
Trunnell said a Safety Advisory Round Table is working on a strategic plan and school committees are forming to better understand how to support safer schools.
“The problem with that, in my opinion, is we need some immediate solutions put in place, whether it's alternative education, or discipline that is going to have an impact on the students who are continuously getting in fights, bringing weapons to school, doing drugs on campus,” Axthelm said.
“I didn't feel like Anna Trunell gave me any hope that was going to happen by Aug. 15, whenever we come back to school, so that’s disappointing to me,” Axthelm said.
“My frustration is we just had a student die on the Montgomery (High School) campus,” Axthelm said. “Why is the committee not formed already? That should have been something immediately done to keep our schools safe.”
Meaghan King, an 11-year veteran teacher at Slater and a representative of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association, said students who are chronic disrupters only make up 2% to 5% of kids. Teachers at the meeting said that small minority is having a large impact on the entire school and its culture.
Those are the students that rack up tardies, suspensions, are failing most, if not all of their classes, and they need help in a different, more flexible and equipped environment, King said.
“We want alternative placements, we want to have these guys get the interventions and the support that they need,” King said. “But all of a sudden, we're asking for things that our district defunded.”
She mentioned the Lewis Opportunity School, a former Santa Rosa middle school for students facing discipline problems or academic challenges. It closed in 2015 and was replaced with The Bridge Academy, a school within a school for kids needing intensive support. It has since been defunded and shut down, she said.
“We've kept eliminating these resources for the students, and now they require such intensive supports,” King said.
The March 1 fatal stabbing of 16-year-old Montgomery High School student Jayden Pienta by another student in an art class spurred an outcry from the community over lack of school safety.
The teachers don’t want to see history repeated at Slater.
“A kid died and we're seeing the same escalation of behavior that Montgomery saw,” King said. “That's why we're so vocal about we need to step up. Talk is cheap. I really want to see actions.”
You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8531 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @alana_minkler.
The world is filled with stories that inspire compassion, wonder, laughs and even tears. As a Press Democrat reporter covering education, it’s my goal to give others a voice to share these stories.
UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy: